This tasty potato casserole is one of those ‘take me back to my childhood’ meals. It’s easy, inexpensive, and tastes like comfort and all things yummy.
The best part is, you can make it in advance if you want. I like to make mine a day in advance because the flavors really have a chance to soak up that way. However, if you’re a “throw it together when you get home from work” type person, it’s still going to taste delicious.
Also, two thumbs up from the kids. Every. Time.
And that’s worth its weight in gold. Because if I can sit down to a relaxing dinner with my family and not fight the kids to eat, my food just tastes better!
If you’re craving your mom’s cheesy tater tot casserole, this recipe is for you.
So let’s get down to it.
Make the casserole ahead of time
As I mentioned, this casserole can be made ahead of time. Just follow the steps to put it all together, cover it, and put it in the refrigerator.
You’ll want to adjust your cooking time to account for the casserole being chilled. Add an additional 20 minutes to the cook time and you’ll be good to go.
How to make tater tot casserole
As usual, plan ahead to get your oven warmed for when everything is ready. This casserole takes about 20 minutes to prep for baking, so preheat your oven to 375 Fahrenheit when appropriate.
Prepping the beef and sauce
Your first step will be to get the creamy goodness getting warm so it’s ready when your casserole is prepped.
Put one block of full-fat cream cheese, 2 cans of cream of celery soup, and 1 cup milk into a saucepan on low heat. Let is slowly warm, stirring occasionally to make sure the dairy isn’t scalding on the pan.
Next, start browning your beef in a skillet. Salt and pepper to taste. I usually go with 1/4 tsp of pepper and 1/2 tsp of salt. Also, add 1 tbsp of minced onions. You can also use fresh onion, but it will change the flavor slightly.
Brown the beef until it is well done (no pink).
Use a whisk in the sauce to get rid of any lumps. It is done when it is smooth. It will be slightly thick… about the consistency of heavy whipping cream. If it is too thick, you can always add a little extra milk.
Throwing it all together
Spray a 9×13 casserole dish with non-stick spray.
Spread the beef on the bottom. It’s okay if it’s not smooth.
Add the bag of tater tots to the top of the beef. You’ll have an easier time spreading evenly if you’ve bought the tater tots that are not as tall. Generally their called tater tot bites.
Once they are spread evenly, it’s time to add a little seasoning.
Sprinkle 1 tbsp of dry ranch dressing mix, 2 tsp of seasoning salt, and 1 tsp of pepper evenly on the top of the tater tots.
Now, pour the cream mixture over the top of the casserole. A spatula will come in handy here to get it covered as evenly as possible. There WILL be tater tots that stick out above the sauce, but make sure they’ve at least had sauce spread over them or they will burn in the oven.
You can also jiggle the baking dish a bit to make sure the mixture has seeped all the way into the beef layer, as well.
Bake the casserole
Your oven should be warmed up by now.
Place the casserole on a rack in the middle of the oven. It does not need to be covered.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165 F. I prefer my food a little warmer, so I always bake food until it’s 170 F.
If you’ve refrigerated it, add 20 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven and spread 2 cups grated cheese evenly over the top. Return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Remove from oven and serve.
Honestly, casseroles are amazing because you can mess with recipe and still have some amazing food.
For example, you don’t have cream of celery but cream of mushroom? You’re still good to go.
Only half a block of cream cheese? No worries, just add sour cream or a little extra milk.
I’ve used mozzarella on the top instead of cheddar, cream of chicken soup, sour cream and heavy whipping cream, etc. It will taste slightly different every time, but it’s always enjoyable.
The sky is the limit. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with your own “mom’s tater tot casserole” recipe.
This recipe COULD be gluten free. Just make sure your tater tots and soup do not have some tricky hidden gluten.
This casserole obviously contains dairy and nightshades. Watch out if those cause you problems.
But if you’re just looking for some good ol’ fashioned comfort food…
Serve and enjoy!
1 lb ground beef
1 bag – 32oz – tater tot bites
1 block full fat cream cheese
2 cans cream of celery soup
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp minced dried onions
1/2 tsp salt
1 + 1/4 tsp ground black pepper separated
2 tbsp ranch dressing mix
1 tbsp seasoning salt
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Spray 9×13 casserole dish with non-stick spray. Set aside.
- In saucepan, combine the cream cheese, soup, and milk. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
- In skillet, combine the beef, minced onions, salt, and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Brown on high heat until there is no pink.
- Spread the beef evenly in the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Spread the tater tots over the beef layer. Try to eliminate as many ‘bump’ as possible.
- Sprinkle the ranch dressing mix, seasoning salt, and remainder of the pepper evenly over the tater tots.
- When the cream mixture is smooth, slowly poor it over the casserole. Use a spatulate to cover as many tots as possible. Jiggle the dish to make sure the mixture has made it to the beef layer.
- You can refrigerate at this stage. Cover the dish completely with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before putting into warm oven.
- Place on a rack in the middle of your oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Add an additional 20 minutes if chilled. The internal temperature should reach at least 165f for the casserole to be done.
- After baking time, remove from oven and sprinkle cheese over the top. Return to over for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
- Serve and enjoy!
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